Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Starbucks Shooter

A Break

Patch: Prince Georges County Maryland Police
Patch: Prince Georges County Maryland Police

A viewer of the show called to say she had dated a man who knew another man named Cooper, and Cooper had claimed to be the Starbucks killer. This was the kind of break the case needed, since Cooper was already on the list of suspects. This woman agreed to wear a wire to get corroboration of what Cooper said. Since the Prince George's County police in Maryland were already investigating Cooper in the context of another shooting the year before the 1996 attempted murder of a cop named Bruce Howard the Metropolitan Police Department thought the woman's information was solid. The two jurisdictions pulled together, and with the FBI, built a case.

Carl Cooper
Carl Cooper

Among the things they did was to wiretap Cooper's phone and to mount a surveillance camera on a utility pole outside his home. From this they generated numbers and leads about other people who might have been involved. They also obtained a gun from Cooper's wife that had been used in another fatal shooting. The case grew complicated, because Cooper had a large network of criminal associates, but his style of killing, it seemed, matched that of the Starbucks incident. Finally, they settled on Cooper as the primary suspect and decided to bring him in.

On March 3, 1999, the papers announced that a suspect was being questioned in connection with the crimes: Carl Derek Havord Cooper, age 29. A witness, referred to in an affidavit published by the Washington Post as W-1 (also referred to as "the barber"), told police that Cooper had invited him to participate in a robbery of the Georgetown Starbucks. He said Cooper had already determined that it was a good target, but then never followed up with W-1 to do the job. Apparently, he had gone ahead to complete it on his own.

Cooper had a long criminal record in several jurisdictions, including armed robbery, a string of car thefts, and drug charges. What linked the Starbucks and Prince George's County incidents was that two handguns of different calibers were used in both, and that, a decade before, when Cooper had been arrested for another offense, he had ammunition on him from two different caliber handguns. The police also had an informant who said that Cooper had admitted to him that he'd committed the 1997 shooting and knew things that only the perpetrator would know.

According to local accounts, Cooper had lived in the northeastern part of DC his entire life and resided there with his mother, wife, and four-year-old son. His deceased father had been a church deacon, and people in the area viewed Cooper as a "nice man." His first run-in with the law had been over cocaine possession, and then he'd turned to armed robbery. At first he denied the Starbucks shooting, but after he was transferred from one jurisdiction to another, and was caught in several lies, he apparently decided to start talking. What he said at first was misleading, but then he got down to business.

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